|Exaule Ngolo Serge with his Chinese teammates in the Dengfeng youth soccer team in Guangzhou.(Photo source:Zou Zhongpin / China Daily)
By Xu Jingxi
BEIJING, Oct. 15 (Xinhuanet) -- The goal post is made with four plastic water bottles, and the makeshift soccer field is rowdy with a group of children, aged about 11 to 12 years old. Most are sporting the bright red jerseys of Guangzhou Evergrande, the city's soccer team.
In the glowing dusk on a recent Sunday, a young African boy stands out from the crowd. Exaule Ngolo Serge is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and like his young teammates, he, too, dreams of becoming a professional player in China when he grows up.
But, the young African hopes that it will not be his skin color that attracts attention, but his beautiful passes and swift shots on the pitch.
"People call our living compound here the 'chocolate city'. I don't like the name. It sounds weird to me. Why do people have to stress on our skin tone?" Ngolo Serge complains as we sit talking in the family service center at Dengfeng community in Guangzhou's Yuexiu district.
Dengfeng also happens to have the largest concentration of Africans in the capital of Guangdong province in South China.
In the area's Baohanzhi Street, you can see bustling wholesale markets at the entrance where Africans bargain with Chinese shopkeepers as they buy clothes and electronic products to export to their own countries.
Further down the street, crowds of Africans buy colorful gowns and DVDs of television series and films popular in Africa. Others are congregated around phone booths making calls back home.
Those on a short visit stay in small inns and motels while those planning to stay longer rent apartments from local residents.
Ngolo Serge came to Guangzhou along with his parents in 2009, but when they decided to go home last year, he opted to stay on.
"I can get a better education in Guangzhou. I can learn Chinese and the math here is more difficult," the fifth-grader explains.
"I've made a lot of good friends who also love soccer as I do here in Guangzhou and the community's family service center established a soccer team for us in January."
Soccer helped him get over the initial loneliness and boredom when he first came to Guangzhou and didn't speak Chinese as well as he does now. He used to stay at home killing time with computer games while his parents were out.
The turning point came one day when he went downstairs and saw a group of children playing soccer. He showed them some of his amazing kicks and the other kids agreed at once that he could join their game.
Ngolo Serge looks like a young Mario Balotelli, the Italian soccer star, and in the eyes of his teammates in the Dengfeng youth soccer team, he plays just as well.
"I started playing soccer when I was two years old. Everyone loves soccer in our country. Boys or girls, we all rush to the playground everyday as soon as school is over at 12:30 pm and play soccer until 7:30 pm," Ngolo Serge says.
"We've got more homework here in China and the parents of my Chinese friends usually won't let them out until they finish their homework."
The Congolese boy has won friends not just through his soccer skills. Many appreciate his joyful personality.
Chen Junhan, one of his teammates, says he seldom sees Ngolo Serge get angry and even when he does, he will just sit by the sidelines a while and join the game when he feels better.
"He cares for his friends very much. When I'm upset, he will look at me, make a naughty face and make me laugh," Chen says.
"Honestly, before knowing Xiao Jiang (Ngolo Serge's Chinese nickname), I thought Africa is a scary place with snakes crawling in jungles everywhere. But now I think it is a lovely place where I can meet happy people like him."
Huang Yaocai, a member of the staff at Dengfeng Community Family Service Center, came up with the idea of a soccer team when he saw Chinese and African children playing together happily in the compound.
"Love for soccer goes beyond national boundaries," says Huang, himself a soccer fan.
"I realized that sports is a good platform for Chinese and Africans to communicate and better understand each other."
To help Africans blend into the community, the family service center offers Chinese lessons free of charge and has organized activities such as inviting Chinese residents to teach their African neighbors how to make dumplings.
Bai Yan, lives in the building next to Ngolo Serge's and her elder son is Ngolo Serge's good friend.
"Exaule is a good boy. He is polite and outgoing. I'm happy to see that my son has become much more outgoing after making friends with him," says Bai, adding that her elder son used to be very shy and introverted because the family came to Guangzhou from their hometown in Qinghai province. Her son was cold-shouldered at school because he wasn't able to speak or understand Cantonese, the local dialect.
"I know Exaule is living with his African friend's family. It's difficult for a whole family like us to lead a new life in a city far way from our hometown, let alone an 11-year-old child without his parents' company. So we will take him together with us when we go out to eat or go for an outing," adds the 30-year-old mother.
It is still a long way to go before Ngolo Serge can fulfill his dream of becoming soccer star.
He is fortunate that his father supports him, and has promised to send him to a soccer academy under a professional soccer club.
"I may leave for France or Britain in a month or two and I may need to live without my parents' company there again, but I believe it won't be a problem because of my experience in China," he says.
"I will definitely miss my friends and our soccer team here in Guangzhou," Ngolo Serge adds.
"We share many unforgettable memories and I hope to come back to Guangzhou and play for Evergrande in the future."
(Source: China Daily)